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Book: Studies in Medieval Islamic Intellectual Traditions

The present volume focuses on aspects of Islamic thought in Iran and Yemen, and other regions of the Middle East, ninth through fifteenth century CE, through a close study of manuscript materials.

The book’s sixteen chapters are arranged under five rubrics: Mu’tazilism, Zaydism in Iran and in Yemen, Twelver Shi’ism, Mysticism, and Bibliographical Traditions. The material included in the book has been published previously in a different version. The appearance of these studies together in a single volume makes this book a significant and welcome contribution to the field of classical Islamic Studies.

About the Authors

Hassan Ansari earned his doctorate at the École Pratique des Hautes Études (EPHE) of the Sorbonne, Paris. He is currently a long-term member at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton. His publications include Accusations of Unbelief in Islam: A Diachronic Perspective on Takfir (edited with. Camilla Adang, Maribel Fierro, and Sabine Schmidtke; Leiden, 2015), L’imamat et l’Occultation selon l’imamisme: Étude bibliographique et histoire des textes (Leiden 2017), and a critical edition of Ibn al-Malahimi’s Tuhfat al-mutakallimin fi l-radd ‘ala l-falasifa (Tehran 2008, with Wilferd Madelung).

Sabine Schmidtke is professor of Islamic intellectual history in the School of Historical Studies, Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton.

Table of Contents


Chapter One Muʿtazilism after ʿAbd al-Ğabbār: Abū Rašīd al-Nīsābūrī’s K. Masāʾil al-Ḫilāf fī l-Uṣūl:

The beginning of the scholarly investigation of Muʿtazilism dates back to the last decade of the nineteenth century. Its primary textual foundation was the collection of manuscripts that had been brought together by Eduard Glaser (1855–1908) during his repeated journeys to Yemen in 1882–84, 1885–86, 1887–88, and 1892–94, consisting mostly of Zaydi works and numerous Muʿtazilitekalāmwritings. Glaser had sold the manuscripts pur chased during his first and second journeys to the Königliche Bibliothek zu Berlin (nowa days the Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin).¹ During his subsequent trips, he continued to pur chase manuscripts, offering them…

Chapter 2 Muʿtazilism in Rayy and Astarābād: Abū l-Faḍl al-ʿAbbās b. Šarwīn:

One of the less well-known students ofqāḍī l-quḍātʿAbd al-Ǧabbār al-Hamadānī (d. 415/1025),¹ the head of the Bahšamiyya of his time, is Abū l-Faḍl al-ʿAbbās b. Šarwīn. Al-Ḥākim al-Ǧišumī (d. 494/1101) reports that he hailed from Astarābād,² where he returned after he had studied with ʿAbd al-Ǧabbār in Rayy. He adds that apart from being a scholar and a theologian (ʿālim mutakallim), Ibn Šarwīn was also a skilled man of letters (adīb faṣīḥ) and an ascetic (zāhid), and that he excelled as a poet.³ As for his works, alǦišumī writes without further specification that he had not only composed…

Chapter 3 The Muʿtazilite and Zaydī Reception of Abū l-Ḥusayn al-Baṣrī’s K. al-Muʿtamad fī Uṣūl al-Fiqh: A Bibliographical Note

From the very beginning,mutakallimūn, specifically the Muʿtazilites among them, took a leading role in developing theories of legal theory, and their treatment thereof was intimately linked with their respective theological notions and considerations.¹ Wāṣil b. ʿAṭāʾ (d. 131/748) is reported to have composed aK. al-Sabīl ilā maʿrifat al-ḥaqq. The title suggests that the work was concerned with epistemological issues that are of immediate relevance both to legal theory and to theology.² Questions relating to authoritative sources of law are also dealt with in detail by Ḍirār b. ʿAmr (d. ca. 200/815) in hisK. al- Taḥrīš³and by..

Chapter 4 Yūsuf al-Baṣīr’s Rebuttal of Abū l-Ḥusayn al-Baṣrī in a Yemeni Zaydī Manuscript of the Seventh/Thirteenth Century


Some years ago, two of the present authors published critical editions of two refutations directed against Abū l-Ḥusayn al-Baṣrī (d. 436/1044).¹ Abū l-Ḥusayn had studiedkalāmwith the leading Muʿtazilite theologian of the time,qāḍī l-quḍātʿAbd al-Ǧabbār al-Hamadānī (d. 415/1025), but he challenged some of the views of his teacher during his lectures and subsequently revised central positions of Bahšamitekalāmin his own theological writings. Among other positions, Abū l-Ḥusayn al-Baṣrī denied the Bahšamite view that accidents (aʿrāḍ) are entitative beings (maʿānī or ḏawāt) that inhere in bodies and produce their qualities. For him, accidents constituted mere descriptive…

Zaydism in Iran

Chapter 5 The Zaydī Reception of Ibn Ḫallād’s K. al-Uṣūl: The Taʿlīq of Abū Ṭāhir b. ʿAlī al-Ṣaffār

Iranian libraries hold only few manuscripts that testify to the extended and intensive Muʿtazilite past in the various centers of Zaydī scholarship in Ṭabaristān, Daylamān, and Gīlān in the Caspian region, in Bayhaq, and, most importantly, in Rayy. Withqāḍī l-quḍātʿAbd al-Ǧabbār al-Hamadānī’s move to the capital of the Iranian province of Ǧibāl in Muḥarram 367/August–September 977, Rayy largely replaced Baghdad as the main intellectual center of Muʿtazilism. ʿAbd al-Ǧabbār taught there even after his dismissal from office in 385/995 until his death in 415/1025,¹ and the city continued to be an important center of Zaydī Muʿtazilites during….

Chapter 6 Iranian Zaydism during the Seventh/Thirteenth Century: Abū l-Faḍl b. Šahrdawīr al-Daylamī al-Ǧīlānī and His Commentary on the Qurʾān


From the third/ninth through the late sixth/twelfth century, the leading intellectual centers of Zaydism were located in northern Iran, namely, in Ṭabaristān, Daylamān, and Gīlān in the Caspian region, as well as in Rayy during and after the Būyid age, and in Bayhaq in Ḫurāsān. Gradually, the Zaydī communities in Iran experienced a decline, and most of their literary legacy was no longer transmitted. Had it not been for the massive transfer of Zaydī religious literature from Iran to Yemen following the political unification of the Caspian and Yemeni Zaydīs that began by the end of the fifth/eleventh century, most…

Zaydism in Yemen

Chapter 7 The Cultural Transfer of Zaydī and Non-Zaydī Religious Literature from Northern Iran to Yemen, Sixth/Twelfth through Eighth/Fourteenth Centuries


The Zaydī community is a branch of Šīʿī Islam that has flourished mainly in two regions: the mountainous northern highlands of Yemen and the Caspian regions of northern Iran. It has survived mainly in the modern state of Yemen. The community’s historical roots can be traced back to the second/eighth century, when Zayd b. ʿAlī (d. 122/740)―a greatgreat- grandson of the prophet Muḥammad―was killed during a Šīʿī uprising in Kufa, in Iraq. By recognizing Zayd b. ʿAlī as the fifthimām(after ʿAlī, al-Ḥasan, al-Ḥusayn, and ʿAlī Zayn al-ʿĀbidīn), the Zaydiyya seceded from the rest of the Šīʿī community. During…


Chapter 8 The Literary-Religious Tradition among Seventh/Thirteenth-Century Yemenī Zaydīs (I): The Formation of Imam al-Mahdī li-Dīn Allāh Aḥmad b. al-Ḥusayn b. al-Qāsim

The richsīraliterature relating to the careers ofimāmsis a genre characteristic of the Zaydī communities in Yemen and in Iran. These documents were composed as a rule by close companions, secretaries, or other personnel in their vicinity, often inspired in structure and terminology by the sīra of the prophet Muḥammad. Their primary function was to legitimize theimāms, and describing their merits therefore formed an important element of such documents. Regular components included a section on theimām’sreligious education that praised his mastery of the various branches of knowledge as well as a formal proclamation of…

Chapter 9 The Literary-Religious Tradition among Seventh/Thirteenth-Century Yemeni Zaydīs (II): The Case of ʿAbd Allāh b. Zayd al-ʿAnsī


One of the leading figures of seventh/thirteenth-century Zaydī scholarship in Yemen was themutakallimand legal scholar ʿAbd Allāh b. Zayd al-ʿAnsī (b. 593/1196–97, d. Šaʿbān 667/April 1268). Al-ʿAnsī was a prolific author in a variety of fields: according to the later biographical tradition, he wrote a total of 105 works.¹ Of these, the most popular, judging by the number of extant manuscripts, appears to have beenal-Iršād ilā naǧāt al-ʿibād, a work with Ṣūfī tendencies that was completed in Rabīʿ II 632/January 1235.² Al-ʿAnsī’s magnum opus was the K.al-Maḥaǧǧa al-bayḍāʾ fī uṣūl al-dīn, a comprehensive theologicalsumma,which…

Chapter 10 Between Aleppo and Ṣaʿda: The Zaydī Reception of the Imāmite Scholar Ibn al-Biṭrīq al-Ḥillī

At the beginning of the early sixth/twelfth century, a rapprochement began between the two Zaydī states in the mountainous northern highlands of Yemen and in the Caspian region of northern Iran, which had been politically and culturally separated for nearly three centuries. This rapprochement eventually resulted in the political unification of the two communities. In 502/1108 Abū Ṭālib, a great-grandson of Imam al-Muʾayyad bi-llāh (d. 411/1020), rose in Gīlān, claiming the Zaydī imamate. A few years later, in 511/1117, he was endorsed by the Yemenī Zaydīs as well. Abū Ṭālib was eager to unite the two Zaydī communities not only…

Chapter 11 Zaydī Theology in Yemen, Third/Ninth through Ninth/Fifteenth Centuries

For most of its history, Zaydī theology was heavily influenced by Muʿtazilite doctrines. Yemen is the only region with a significant Zaydī community until the present day. It is therefore in the country’s historical libraries that thousands of Muʿtazilite manuscripts have survived. These collections include both texts that were lost in majoritarian Sunnī lands as well as many other theological works written by members of the Zaydī community themselves. This chapter provides a survey of theological trends and movements from the beginnings of the Zaydī imamate in Yemen over its political unification with the Caspian Zaydiyya down to theologians from…

Chapter 12 Zaydī Theology in Seventh/Thirteenth-Century Yemen: ʿAbd Allāh b. Zayd al-ʿAnsī and His Kitāb al-Maḥaǧǧa al-Bayḍāʾ fī Uṣūl al-Dīn

Zaydī Šīʿism initially developed and flourished in two regions, the southern shore of the Caspian Sea in northern Iran and the northern highlands of Yemen: al-Nāṣir li-l-ḥaqq al-Ḥasan b. ʿAlī al-Uṭrūš (d. 304/917) had founded a Zaydī imamate in Gīlān, while Yaḥyā b. al-Ḥusayn al-Hādī ilā l-ḥaqq (d. 298/911), a grandson of Imam al-Qāsim b. Ibrāhīm al-Rassī (d. 246/860), had established in 284/897 a Zaydī state in Yemen. The two states constituted separate political and cultural entities. Whereas the majority of Yemeni theologians remained faithful to the teachings of the early Zaydīimāms, viz. al-Qāsim and al-Hādī, the Caspian Zaydīs…

Twelver Shiʿism

Chapter 13 The Twelver Šīʿī Reception of Muʿtazilism

The history of rational theology among the Twelver Šīʿīs between the mid-third/ninth and seventh/thirteenth century passed through a series of phases, each one characterized by distinct doctrinal features. Šīʿī (proto-Imāmite) theology began to evolve already during the lifetime of theimāms(ʿaṣr al-ḥuḍūr). It is particularly since the time of Imam Ǧaʿfar al-Ṣādiq (d. 148/765) that the extant biographical and doxographical literature testifies to a lively scene ofmutakallimūnamong the companions of theimāms.¹ The attitude of theimāmstowards their followers’ engagement inkalāmwas ambiguous. Numerous preserved accounts report that they condemned manifestations of speculative reasoning in…

Chapter 14 Al-Šayḫ al-Ṭūsī: His Writings on Theology and Their Reception

While Twelver Šīʿī theological thought during the third/ninth and fourth/tenth centuries has been studied relatively well (as much as is possible on the basis of the few, mostly secondary sources that are preserved),¹ little is known about its doctrinal developments from the early fifth/eleventh century onwards. Whereas most of the theological works by al-Šarīf al-Murtaḍā (b. 355/967, d. 436/1044) have been preserved, are by now available in critical editions, and have partly been studied,² only some of thekalāmwritings by his most prominent student, the Šayḫ al-ṭāʾifa Muḥammad b. al-Ḥasan al-Ṭūsī (d. 460/1067), are extant.³ Al-Murtaḍā departed from the…

Chapter 15 Al-Šayḫ al-Ṭūsī’s Muqaddama fī l-Madḫal ilā ʿIlm al-Kalām: A Critical Edition

The following edition is based on MS Istanbul, Süleymaniye, Atıf Efendi 1338/1, ff. 1a– 110a (ا) (for a description, see Chapter 14 in the present volume, section III), and MS London, British Library (BL), Or 10968/1, ff. 1a–17b (ب). MS BL Or 10968/1 was copied by ʿAlī b. Ḥasan b. al-Raḍī al-ʿAlawī al-Ḥusaynī and completed on 1 Ḏū l-Ḥiǧǧa 716/February 14, 1317, with numerous collation notes and comments in the margin in the same hand. For a brief description of the codex, see Naǧaf, “Min al-maḫṭūṭāt al-ʿarabiyya,” 277. We thank ʿAlī Ṭabāṭabāʾī Yazdī for having made a copy of…


Chapter 16 Abū Saʿd al-Ḫargūšī and His Kitāb al-Lawāmiʿ: A .ufi Guide Book for Preachers from Fourth/Tenth-Century Nishapur

The interest of modern scholarship in Abū Saʿd ʿAbd al-Malik b. Abī ʿUṯmān Muḥammad b. Ibrāhīm b. Yaʿqūb al-Ḫargūšī al-Nīšābūrī (“al-wāʿiẓ al-Ḫargūšī,” d. 406/1015–16 or 407/1016), a contemporary and compatriot of the well-known Ṣūfī Abū ʿAbd al-Raḥmān al-Sulamī (d. 412/1021), began shortly before World War II with Arthur J. Arberry’s brief description of al-Ḫargūšī’s K.Tahḏīb al-asrār, a Ṣūfī manual in the form of a collection of sayings of earlier Ṣūfī authorities arranged in seventy chapters, on the basis of a manuscript preserved in the Berlin State Library.1 It was possibly due to Arberry’s negative evaluation of al-Ḫargūšī’s Tahḏīb…


Bibliographical Traditions

Chapter 17 Bibliographical Practices in Islamic Societies, with an Analysis of MS Berlin, Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin, Hs. or. 13525

Despite the constantly growing research on the literary history of the Muslim world and related social practices, our knowledge of what was available, popular, or read in differ ent periods and regions is still dismally patchy. There is hardly a period or a region in the long and diverse history of the Muslim world for which we can present a clear and detailed picture as to which books were accessible and common in any given discipline among the various circles, communities, and societies, Muslim and non-Muslim alike. Nor do we know much about the diffusion of books, the processes of…

Bibliographic Information

Title:Studies in Medieval Islamic Intellectual Traditions

َAuthors: Hassan Ansari and Sabine Schmidtke

Publisher:  Lockwood Press

Language: English

Length: 472 pages

ISBN:  978-1937040918

Pub. Date: November 2017

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